PETERBOROUGH, N.H – Even before the results were in, Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman had a message for whoever won the Iowa caucus: "Welcome to New Hampshire. Nobody cares."
Huntsman finished up his final day of having New Hampshire to himself with a crowded town hall meeting in Peterborough, where a voter asked him what he'd say to the Iowa winner. His short answer -- "Welcome to New Hampshire. Nobody cares" -- was a bit more direct than he had been in recent days. He has said the rest of the country will forget the Iowa results within days if not hours.
Showing off a more aggressive speaking style, Huntsman won sustained applause from the crowd of about 350 when he repeated his stump speech promise not to pander to voters by "signing all those silly pledges like all the other candidates." And he answered "Hell, no!" when asked if he'd bail out banks if they sought help to deal with foreign debt.
"I can't even believe I'm standing here!" he exclaimed at one point, reveling in what likely was the largest crowd he has attracted so far.
The former Utah governor insists that New Hampshire, not Iowa, will send a strong message about electability, but he continues to lag far behind the New Hampshire front-runner, Mitt Romney.
Asked by a reporter in Lebanon, N.H., to compare himself to Romney, Huntsman strung together all the criticisms he's been sprinkling into his speeches in the last week. He started by saying simply, "I can get elected."
"The issue is going to be trust in the 2012 election cycle. People want to know your core. They want to know you have a consistent, predictable core," he said. "I haven't been on three sides of all the issues. I ran a state that was No. 1 in job creation as opposed to No. 47. I've lived overseas four times. ... The kind of experience I bring is unlike anyone else in the race."
Though all eyes were on Iowa, he said he had no regrets about his decision to bypass the caucuses.
"This will be the ballgame here, because this is a primary," he told reporters earlier in Pembroke. "This will be a broadband turnout ... and it will be a result that speaks to the issue of electability."
Huntsman gave students at the Strong Foundations charter school in Pembroke a lesson in politics when he helped distribute iPads the school recently purchased at a discount from a Utah company called iSchool Campus. The company offered 200 iPads plus computers and a new wireless network to the school in part because it wanted to capitalize on publicity generated by Huntsman's presidential campaign.
The company's founder, Tom Pitcher, has donated $2,000 to Huntsman's campaign, and he promoted both his company and Huntsman at the school.
The two stopped by a fifth-grade classroom where students were writing on their iPads about their Christmas gifts and using an online thesaurus to replace overused adjectives. Briefly interrupting that lesson, Pitcher asked the students to search the Internet for information about Huntsman instead.